From Our 2012 Archives

No Safe Way to Text and Drive for Teens

Texting or Even Thinking About Texting While Driving Linked to Car Crashes

By Jennifer Warner
WebMD Health News

Reviewed by Louise Chang, MD

April 29, 2012 -- Texting or even the thought of texting on a cell phone while driving may be distracting enough to cause a car crash for teens.

Two new studies suggest that teen drivers who text with their cell phone in any position or even think about texting are more likely to be involved in an accident.

"We know it is important to prevent young drivers from taking their hands off the wheel and eyes off the road to use a cell phone," researcher Jennifer M. Whitehill, PhD, a postdoctoral fellow at Harborview Injury Prevention and Research Center at the University of Washington, says in a news release. "This study suggests that thinking about future cell phone calls and messages may be an additional source of distraction that could contribute to crashes."

Several studies have shown that texting or using a cell phone while driving raises the risk of motor vehicle accidents, prompting bans on texting while driving in many states.

But some have suggested that such bans may increase these dangers by causing drivers who text to conceal their phones from view.

Texting Unsafe in Any Position for Drivers

In the first study, researchers looked at whether the position of the cell phone affected teen drivers' performance while texting.

Using a driving simulator, 22 teen drivers drove under three different conditions: without a cell phone, texting with a cell phone hidden from view, and texting with a cell phone in their preferred position.

The results showed that teens who were texting while driving were up to eight times more likely to drift between lanes. They were also twice as likely to be involved in a near crash with other cars and pedestrians, regardless of whether the phone was concealed.

Overall, teens who were texting while driving made up to four times more driving mistakes and were often unaware of these potentially dangerous mishaps.

"These data demonstrate that there is no 'safe' or 'better' position that makes texting less dangerous," Glade Inhofe, a high school student who helped conduct the study, says in a news release.

Thought of Cell Phone Use Distracting

The second study looked at whether the thought or anticipation of cell phone use affected the risk of car crashes among young drivers.

Researchers surveyed a group of 384 undergraduate students at the University of Washington about their cell phone use and history of car crashes.

The students completed a Cell Phone Overuse Scale (CPOS) that measured four aspects of potentially problematic or compulsive cell phone use:

  • Frequent anticipation of calls or messages
  • Cell phone use interferes with normal activities and impacts friends and family
  • A strong emotional reaction to the cell phone
  • Recognizing "problem cell phone use"

The results showed that each 1-point increase on the CPOS scale was associated with a 1% increase in the number of previous car crashes among the young drivers.

In particular, young drivers who frequently anticipated a call or text or had an emotional response to their cell phone were more likely to be involved in a car crash.

Both studies were presented at the annual meeting of the Pediatric Academic Societies in Boston.

These findings were presented at a medical conference. They should be considered preliminary, as they have not yet undergone the "peer review" process, in which outside experts scrutinize the data prior to publication in a medical journal.

SOURCES: Pediatric Academic Societies annual meeting, Boston, April 28 - May 1, 2012.News release, American Academy of Pediatrics.

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